“Do No Evil”?

Anyone remember this Japanese parable?

Known as the three wise monkeys, they embody—“speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil.”

Occasionally they are pictured with a fourth monkey with crossed arms representing “do no evil.”

There is a certain simplicity to the notion, and one that carries virtue in its practice – imagine if some of our anonymous digital bloggers and such practiced the “speak” and “do” portions….

Yet growing up, there was a view that the very simplicity of this proverb was in itself dangerous and could lead to a society of people who shut out reality and looked the other way when faced with injustice—as portrayed by this famously historic political cartoon:

All of which leads me to “Don’t Be Evil,” the (now becoming) infamous motto of Google, going back to their founding days.

When they first took on Microsoft, the line seemed a byword of the new digital generation and was a challenge and frankly a forced upon positioning to an (even by then) older and more traditional high-tech company that had long ago passed the stage of scrappy start-up.

Yet today “Don’t Be Evil” rings rather hollow when we discover that in the process of creating the amazing Street View, Google was also reading our private data (including passwords) as their digital photo units passed by our homes. Not to mention the role reversal, with Microsoft now looking like the pounded-upon and persecuted child.

Crazily—in my personal opinion—we seem to be making excuses for the corporate malfeasance of what we view as “new-age digital corporations,” giving them a pass for the kind of behavior that would cause us to bury an older, seemingly more “traditional” (how I hate that meaningless moniker…) company.

Google can read our mail, Amazon can sell our data, Apple can exploit poor workers, and all can do it in the name of bettering our lives and society.

I encourage you to read the following piece by Quentin Hardy, “Don’t Be Evil, But Don’t Miss The Train.” The questions laid out are critical, I believe, to the future of society:

Do unarguably phenomenally successful entrepreneurs have the right to dictate social change beyond the changes we ourselves are driving with the very products they have created?

And yes – while it is fair to argue that the changes brought about by the automobile and the airplane, not to mention Gutenberg and the printing press, took generations to develop while in today’s world we drive change in minutes – would we have wanted, would we have allowed Henry Ford to determine the social structure of a country because he was successful and had vision – you tell me….

Bottom line – I am concerned. Concerned when we look the other way, concerned when we make excuses, concerned when we don’t hold people in power accountable, and concerned when we allow analysts and others who have vested interests to cover our eyes, ears and mouths.

Let’s be clear – I don’t believe that Google is evil…but I do believe that we are all asleep at the switch. If we give people a pass—without any accountability—because they tell us that they are changing the world, where does it stop? Worse, just look back in history to get an idea of where it can go….

Perhaps it’s as my daughters would say – my pathetic wannabe aging hippy sensibility – or maybe because I recently bought a new children’s version of these lyrics in book form and taught my two grandsons (5 and 2) how to sing the words – but do listen:

“How many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see….the answer my friend is blowing in the wind….” Bob Dylan

I also encourage you to listen to all the words – if you have forgotten them and even more so if you don’t know them – and all are invited to join Henry, Teddy and me next time we sing…

What do you think? The answer is blowing in the wind….


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